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Migrating manatee in danger

Monday, January 30 2012

click on pic to zoom in
The West Indian Manatee...bi-annual count to start soon....
The West Indian Manatee...bi-annual count to start soon....

Concern is being expressed for the last remaining viable manatee population in the Nariva Swamp, which has recently come under threat during their migration out to nearby rivers using the sea.

This move into the other habitats is a regular occurrence during the rainy season when the waters are high and movement is unrestricted in the waterways. During this time, food for the manatees is readily available as the riverbanks are overgrown with lush green vegetation. This is in contrast to the dry season when the grasses dry up and the manatees return to stay in their safe haven in the Nariva Swamp.

The presence of manatees during the rainy season in the nearby Mitan and Ortoire Rivers as well as the Lebranche and Salybia Rivers has been confirmed over the years by community persons as well as wildlife officers of the Forestry Division. These manatees were able to move out of the Nariva Swamp using the Mitan River and thereafter disperse to the various locations via the coastal waters. Traditionally, there has been good support from the communities and fisher folks ranging from Salybia all the way down to Manzanilla to protect them from harm while in the sea.

However, this level of support has been recently compromised with the discovery in the last three months of two manatee carcasses; one at the mouth of the Mitan River and the other on the beach itself. From reports made to the Manatee Conservation Trust by concerned villagers, one of the manatees while in the sea just north of the Ortoire River was being harassed by fishermen who kept passing a boat over the area where the manatee was observed. Signs of abrasions on the back of one of the manatee carcasses, most likely from collision with the boat, lend credence to this report and the Trust condemns this act of cruelty.

Gupte Lutchmedial, speaking for the Trust said, “We are heavily invested in protecting this endangered marine mammal and need the support of the fishermen to ensure that the manatees migrate without coming to harm once they come out of the safety zone of the Nariva Swamp.” He continued, “Manatees move slowly making them quite vulnerable and the fishing boats need to slow down and exercise caution once they detect the presence of manatees in the water.”

The manatee is considered to be one of this country’s endangered species and over the years, there have been several initiatives catering for its protection in the Nariva Swamp. Both the habitat and the manatees are fully protected under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. The Nariva Swamp holds several designations as a Prohibited Area, Environmentally Sensitive Area and a Ramsar Site of International Importance while the manatee is a protected species and also designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Species. The Manatee Conservation Trust, supporting the government’s initiatives has also set aside lands under its ownership that serve as part of the manatee’s habitat under protection status in perpetuity.

In terms of enforcement activities, the Forestry Division has a team of wildlife personnel dedicated to carry out patrols and monitor the activities taking place in the area. This regular presence has yielded success with the manatees and other wildlife species benefitting from such a safety net. Not to be outdone, good support for wildlife enforcement comes from the community-based Manatee Conservation Trust and the communities and small-scale users who eke out a living from the Nariva Swamp.

One of the wildlife officers associated with the Nariva Swamp shared this comment, “It is unfortunate that all our efforts to protect this animal can come to naught by a single act of callousness, once the manatees come outside the safe zone. The outcome of such carelessness is that we are jeopardising the future of this population.”

The Nariva Swamp manatees are known to be breeding and up to last week, reports made by fisher folks and community persons of two young manatees, under one year old seen in the area, were verified by the Manatee Conservation Trust. That the population continues to be sustainable must be attributed to the efforts of the Forestry Division and their community-based support. The Manatee Conservation Trust recognises that further decimation of the population can undo all the good work so far and is making an appeal for the safe passage of migrating manatees, so that they go about their natural cycle unharmed.

Lutchmedial, in emphasising the need to maintain the population numbers, made the point , “We are certain that the population is breeding by the presence of these young calves and therefore they are keeping a balance in their population structure to maintain viability. By killing off the migrating adults, we are disrupting this balance to the detriment of the overall population.”

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